CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 18: Jamal Olasewere #1 of the Long Island Blackbirds goes up for a shot between Tyler Zeller #44 and John Henson #31 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second half during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 18, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs the LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY-BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDSNATIONWIDE ARENA -- COLUMBUS, OHIO
FRIDAY, MARCH 16th, 2012, Appx. 9:20 PM EST TV: TBSONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network
Writing a preview for a game that's been focused on by Spartans young and old for five days is fairly difficult. Let's analogize the Long Island Blackbirds to an album...let's say Thriller. It's been said ad nauseam that the Blackbirds play fast and want to run, run, run down the court, the Billie Jean if you will. Their coach, Jim Ferry, used to think that Michigan State was, to paraphrase, a slow-it-down grind-it-out team; he's since backtracked a bit on the statement. Let's call this storyline Beat It. A notion also exists in some that the Spartans can't handle athleticism. This is obviously the title track, since it's going to stretch on for games after this one.
But what else do we know besides these story lines? I'll be honest and say not a lot, the highest ranked team in KenPom LIU played this season was #54 Iona, and that game was a 100-84 Iona win. The only Big Ten team the Blackbirds played was Penn State, which was a 77-68 win for the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley. It's safe to say the Blackbirds haven't played a team of MSU's caliber this season.
After the jump, the album cuts of Blackbird stats this season as related to Thriller, because if I related it to Bleed American I'd get a lot of quizzical glances.
- LIU isn't the best at defense/P.Y.T. Pretty Young Thing is a song you'll still hear in bars across the nation today, so it's a borderline deep album cut -- not as popular as Billie Jean, but still well known. Like P.Y.T., it's been no secret that the Blackbirds are a bit iffy on defense. They can't force turnovers (opponents turn the ball over 18.5% of the time, 259th in NCAA), and they have trouble keeping opponents off the boards (allow other teams to collect 34.2% of their misses, 255th in NCAA). The latter fact is a boon for Michigan State, expect Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne to feast.
- LIU draws a lot of fouls and doesn't foul/Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' is the six-minute track that starts Thriller, and while it was the fourth single, it wasn't as popular as others. LIU is 2nd in the NCAA in both offensive and defensive free throw rate; they average a free throw attempt for about every two field goals they attempt, while opponents have a little less than one free throw attempt for every four field goals attempted. I'm not as worried about the free throw defense, I am worried that LIU draws a couple quick fouls on Draymond.
- LIU has a high two-point percentage/The Girl Is Mine Admitted: I'm out of analogies. The Girl Is Mine did feature Paul McCartney though, and thusly must be mentioned by law whenever one writes more than 500 words pertaining to Thriller, especially when MSU is playing a team called the Blackbirds. ANYWAY, the Blackbirds shoot 52.3% from two (24th in NCAA), driven by their two 6'7" forwards Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd (Olasewere - 61.1%, Boyd - 57.7%). Do they have post moves? Yes. Have they faced a defensive triumvirate like Green, Payne and Nix this season? I'm guessing no.
I'm slightly nervous for this game. It's evident the Blackbirds can play, they won the Northeast Conference, play an extremely up-tempo style that may be taxing on Payne and Nix, and can shoot well. However, that ability hasn't been tested against any defenses I'd consider elite, and Michigan State can run as well as almost anyone in the NCAA and go 8-9 deep. It'll be rough at times and gnashing of teeth may occur, but keep in mind this -- if someone brings up Syracuse and UNC-Asheville from yesterday, tell them that UNC-Asheville played against many high major teams this season (UNC, NC State, UConn, Tennessee) and although lost to all of them, played them well. LIU hasn't faced anyone in MSU's league, and I think after 10-12 nervous minutes, the Spartans pull away and win
PREDICTION -- MICHIGAN STATE 92, LONG ISLAND 72.